We were wondering where the meeting point was, for the cardboard collectors in Chinatown.
He was sitting there at the end of a row of tables at a nearby coffeeshop. So, we approached him, to ask him if he knew where we could find the collection point for the cardboard collectors.
Mr Lim (not his real name) is 63-years old. He lives with his wife in one of the one-room rental flats above the coffeeshop. Mr Lim spends some days just sitting there, as he is unable to work. His wife does, however, taking home about $900 a month.
As we – four of us – chatted with him, we learned that he was recently issued a fine by the National Environment Agency (NEA) for smoking at the non-smoking section of the coffeeshop.
Mr Lim showed us the reminder letter from the NEA to attend court on the 4th of August at 6pm.
The fine he has to pay is S$200.
While it may not be a big sum, it still is a lot of money to Mr Lim.
Especially when it is his wife who is working to pay the bills and he collects only S$250 from his CPF.
He doesn’t receive any financial support from the government as he thinks that he does not qualify because his wife has income.
His only son from his first marriage lives elsewhere and is seldom in contact with Mr Lim.
Mr Lim himself is not working because he has bone cancer.
He tells us that it has been two years since he was first diagnosed with the disease and that he is at the fourth stage of the condition.
He shifts his body and leg on the chair, and grimaces a little as he does so.
“It is painful sometimes,” he says.
On the table is a pink plastic bag, and in it contains his medication – including a bottle of morphine.
Mr Lim is a frail-looking man, with dark skin and a shaven head with a thin ponytail. He speaks in Chinese and hardly draws a smile the whole time we were with him.
It is apparent that he is in discomfort.
“Have you been able to eat?” we ask.
“Not really,” he replied. “I do feel hungry but I just have no appetite.”
“What about sleeping? Are you able to sleep?”
“At night is the worst,” he says. “At night, the pain is unbearable, so I have to take the morphine. And then I can sleep.”
But sometimes he doesn’t get to sleep.
In the day time, he says, even if he feels pain, he would try not to use the morphine issued to him by the National Cancer Centre.
Instead, he said that he smokes occasionally to relieve the pain from his illness.
We ask if we could have a look at his medication.
Furosemide – to treat fluid build-up and swelling caused by congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, or kidney disease.
Ketoconazole – to treat fungal skin infection that causes a red scaly rash on different parts of the body.
Morphine – a narcotic pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain.
“Have you sought help with the summon?” we ask. “Have you seen your MP?”
“Yes, I have seen her but she couldn’t help me.”
“What if we try? Would you mind if we write to her?”
“Aiya. Better not. No need.”
“But S$200 is a lot of money, and besides, this is your first offence.”
Mr Lim pauses.
“It is ok. At most I will pay the fine.”
We repeat that it was a lot of money and that the authorities could waive it on compassionate grounds.
He still seemed reluctant and so we changed the topic of discussion.
“How do you get from here to the State Court?”
He pauses a moment and says, “Well, I will just have to go.”
“Is it difficult for you to make your way there?”
“No, it’s not a problem.”
We again ask him to let us help him and see if we could get the authorities to waive the fine.
Finally he agrees.
We ask for permission to photograph the letter from the NEA so that we could refer to it in our correspondence with it.
“I will be going to see my MP again this evening,” Mr Lim says.
“Oh, that’s good,” we replied. “Yes, ask her to try and help you, see if she can assist too. Will you have to wait long to see here?”
“Yes, there are many people. I have to be there at 5pm.”
“5pm? Doesn’t the Meet-The-People session start only at 7pm?”
“Yes, but you have to queue.”
We ask for his phone number so that we can keep in touch and see how the meeting with his MP had gone.
“We will try and get your fine cancelled,” we told him. “In the meantime, take care of yourself.”
Mr Lim shook our hands, and we took our leave.
It was a chance encounter, really, that we had with Mr Lim. He was just sitting there.
If we had not approached him and started to chat with him, we would not have known that Mr Lim had such a medical condition, and is living with so much pain.
And that he is counting his days before he finally has some permanent relief.
We hope Mr Lim will at least have some rest in the meantime.
We wrote to the NEA and his MP the next day, and are awaiting their response.